Few names carry quite the same heft in the lore of Italian cycling as the Stelvio.
The site of many great Giro battles, a brutally long and demanding climb, and among the most scenic roads built anywhere in the world.
The way up from Prato is the ‘more iconic’ side, but to tell the truth when you’re dealing with a monumental mountain such as this any route you take to get up to the summit is going to be jam-packed with breathtaking vistas and heart-stopping hairpins. From Prato the climb tackles 48 hairpin bends, with 1,808m of elevation gain and a truly mind-boggling 24km total distance – at VeloSocial we’ve been on cafe rides that are shorter than that! The other ways up are from Bormio to the south of the summit, or via the Umbrail pass which begins in Switzerland.
The average gradient of the climb is 7.4% from Prato and a little shallower from Bormio. it’s not an especially hard one to ride, given this (comparably) benign pitch. The many, many hairpins take much of the sting out of the mountain – so really it’s the length and time you’ll spend climbing it that’ll get ya. A fit amateur cyclist can expect to spend the better part of two hours climbing the Stelvio – that’s a phenomenally long time to be going up continually, and it takes its toll mentally as much as it does physically.
As one of the biggest lumps in the Italian alps, the Stelvio has naturally played host to a good many stages of the Giro d’Italia. First used in 1953, the maiden victory on its slopes went to – who else? – Fausto Coppi. It has been a regularly included part of the parcours ever since, with perhaps the most infamous moment of recent memory occurring in 2017, when eventual race winner Tom Dumoulin was ‘caught short’ and had to dive off his bike to take an unscheduled ‘pit stop’ aside the road. If you’re hunting the Strava KoM then you’ll have to beat 1:03:52 – and overhaul Gianni Moscon’s best effort in the process.